Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, with its 328 square miles of protected public lands containing the 103.5 square mile Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, is every primitive camper’s paradise. Created in 2009, this Bureau of Land Management property is well known for its breathtaking scenery, spectacular canyons, seasoned bluffs, mesas, and geological resources. Elevation within the park ranges from about 5,000 feet to more than 8,000 feet.
Located about eight miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado, this BLM property can be easily accessed via two highways. Moreover, a network of maintained and unpaved roads make navigation by vehicles possible within the park.
Recreational opportunities abound at Dominguez-Escalante NCA. Not only will guests and campers be treated to stunning views of landscapes, diverse flora, historic sites, and artifacts, but activities such as fishing, hunting, and picnicking will also keep visitors well engaged. Wildlife viewing is yet another popular activity by primitive camping enthusiasts.
Free camping and vehicle camping opportunities are available within the park’s areas, as some of the sites are equipped with amenities such as picnic tables, vault toilets, restrooms, and parking spaces. RV camping opportunities are available nearby at Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest.
Dominguez-Escalante National Recreation Area is located about eight miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado, and can be accessed by vehicles along Highways 50 and 141. Highway 50 runs along the eastern portion of this BLM land, offering easy access to the eastern areas within the park, while Highway 141 offers visitors the chance to navigate the western portion of the park easily as it straddles the western boundary.
Paved, maintained roads branch off these highways into the park and lead up to some of the BLM camping areas within the park. Two major camping areas within the park – Big Dominguez Campground and Potholes Recreation Site – are about 11 to 12 miles off Highways 141 and 50 respectively. Even though some campsites can accommodate RVs and trailers, it is recommended that you visit the park in your Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) or four-wheel drive so you can easily negotiate the curved and winding primitive routes within the park. A designated parking area is located at Cactus Recreation Area off Highway 141 towards the northern end of the park.
Potholes Recreation Site, located about 12 miles up Escalante Canyon, offers free camping opportunities as well as vehicle camping options for guests at Dominguez-Escalante NCA. There are no showers or potable water facilities available within the camping area. However, vault toilets are available. Pets are welcome.
It is recommended that you visit this camping in your OHV so you can easily navigate the winding gravel roads that lead to the site. Picnic tables are available at Potholes Recreation Site. Recreational hiking trails are present within and around the campsites for guests’ pleasure. Note that campfires are not allowed, and neither is the collection or burning of wood. Moreover, you should come along with your camp stove.
Big Dominguez Campground can be accessed both from Highway 141 and Highway 50 via the network of maintained and unpaved roads that are present within the park. This BLM campground is open to dry camping as well as vehicle camping opportunities and welcomes campers of all ages.
Sitting at an elevation of more than 7,100 feet, this campground features the Big Dominguez Creek which flows through the campground all year, offering amazing fishing opportunities for primitive campers. Other recreational opportunities available at the campground include rock climbing, nature observation, and hiking.
The campground is pet-friendly and features picnic areas available for meals as well as parking spaces.
The Dominguez Canyon Wilderness is the premier dry camping location within Dominguez-Escalante NCA. This wilderness, which is characterized by diverse ecosystems, features two major canyon systems which drain the northeastern corner of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
With its outstanding geological features, ecological diversity, spectacular scenery, and beautiful streams, this wilderness is perfect for primitive recreation and dry camping. Nature and wildlife observers always have their cameras with them when camping within the wilderness.
Besides hiking, fishing and horseback riding, hunting is another popular activity that campers enjoy within this wilderness.
One of the most interesting features of Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area is the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, a historic trail that showcases the travel route of 19th-century traders within the New Mexico (formerly Mexico) and California region. If you were a user of the route in the early to mid-19th century, you’d find that it was the shortest route from Santa Fe to Los Angeles.
Three main routes are available on this historic trail, including the North Branch, Main Route, and the Armijo Route. Along the trail, hikers get to see red-rock mesas, fording untamed rivers, and snow-capped areas.
Escalante Canyon, within Dominguez-Escalante NCA, is a great site for a host of recreational activities available year-round. Wonderful kayaking opportunities are available within the canyon for visitors in spring, while guests at this BLM property in summer have the most amazing picnics within a recreation area equipped with restrooms and picnic tables.
Additionally, your exploration of the canyon will take you to areas such as the Escalante Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) where you’ll get to see sensitive plant species and natural seeps.
Gunnison River is a relatively flat stretch of river that runs from the northern boundary of Dominguez-Escalante through Escalante Canyon and the mouth of Dominguez Canyon.
This river is very popular among visitors camping on this BLM land because it offers wonderful boating opportunities. Both private boaters and commercial boaters along the river are treated to stunning views of red-rock canyons as they boat on the river. Also, the beautiful wildlife that calls the park home can be seen by boaters on the river. Moreover, dry camping areas are available along the river.
Numerous fauna species are present within Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, all of which provide wonderful viewing opportunities for wildlife viewing enthusiasts. However, that’s not all! Hunting areas are available within the park between Highway 50 and Gunnison River where hunting enthusiasts can pursue their interests.
This area was the traditional hunting ground for the Fremont and Ute Indians that migrated through the area, so the area has a rich cultural heritage. Some of the wildlife available include desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, turkey, mountain lion, and black bear.
Ninemile Hill is a recreation area very close to Grand Valley with lots of fun opportunities, particularly for guests and campers without vehicles. At the hill, visitors enjoy unimpeded exploration of Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area through horseback riding and hiking.
One of the most popular trails in the area is the Tabeguache Trail, used by mountain bikers, riders, as well as hikers and jeep enthusiasts. What’s more, there’s a communication tower at the crest of the hill, a feature worth seeing and taking a photograph of.
Cactus Park is the best stop for campers and guests at Dominguez-Escalante NCA who wish to enjoy motorized recreational opportunities. This is because this area consists of trails that run for miles, winding through the BLM property all the way to Uncompahgre National Forest. As a result, this recreation area is the starting point for guests that want to take their adventure from the BLM land all the way to the peak of Uncompahgre Plateau.